42

If you think that Shoghi Effendi’s writings were the pinnacle of the English language, then you obviously haven’t read anything by Douglas Adams.Adams, of course, is the author of the wildly famous Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) series of books. Plainly put Adams was a wordsmith; someone who awed you with his eloquence and playful mastery of his craft.I remember the first time that I read Adams. I got goose bumps. I thought, you can do that? I had no idea til then that simple words in the English language could be combined in such a way. Here’s an example:

There is an art, […] or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

Who writes like that? I mean, who thinks like that?

Underneath the light-hearted comedy and critique of human foibles, it isn’t difficult to spot Adams’ fascination with scientific ideas like chaos theory, quantum mechanics and quantum physics. Adams loved and appreciated science and within a very short time after the publication of H2G2, some of the most prominent scientists of our time became his biggest fans.

Douglas Adams was many things; a successful author; a loving father and husband; a towering man of more than 6 feet; a fan of science and scientists; a radical atheist (a label he applied to himself so others wouldn’t mistake him for a dithering agnostic); a lover of gadgets and technology (especially the Macintosh). But prolific, he was not.

He used to make light of his chronic writer’s block by saying that he loved deadlines…especially the whooshing sound they made as they flew past one’s head. And due to his untimely death in 2001, we will only have his H2G2 books, a few other lesser known works, and some incomplete manuscripts.

Adams was frustrated that it took around 20 years for his iconic work to make it onto the big sceen. He once quipped that the Hollywood process is like “trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.” Unfortunately, I don’t think the movie quite captures his brilliance. But then again, it simple can’t. I think its impossible to successfully carry over all the elements from one medium to another.

I still recommend that you go see The Hitch Hiker’s Guide movie. If nothing else, consider it a good, long commercial for the books. An after seeing the movie, do your brain a favor and read the whole trilogy (yes, all five parts). And after you’re done, don’t forget Douglas Adams’ lesser known but equally brilliant books about Dirk Gently – an idiot savant version of Sherlock Holmes.

You won’t think of life, the universe and everything (including the English language) in quite the same way ever again.

We’re Not Worthy

As I predicted in my entry about the election of Paul Lample to the UHJ, his self-published book Creating a New Mind is drawing a lot of new attention. No doubt all the good little AABMs, ABMs and Counsellors are finished dog-earing their own personal copies by now. Competing with them to praise this singular work is a new Baha’i web magazine.

SPIRITUAL DEGREES, which bills itself as “a Baha’i web magazine for the 5th Epoch”, has started a series of articles which loosely hang well-worn platitudes on Lample’s book. I really can’t see what all the fuss is about since his book just reads like a compilation of various quotes handcuffed together. But then again, that describes most of what comes out of Palabra. Maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe I’m just not worthy to grovel at his munificence, like these other good folks.

The article does contain a few honest remarks though. Its author acknowledges the shifting demographics within the Baha’i community (largely due to failure of the North American Baha’i community to grow – or stop shrinking, as it were) and says “It is clear that contemporary young adults no longer relate in quite the same way as before.” He then asks: “What is it about the evolution of the community […] that has failed to capture and maintain the interest of young adults?” Indeed.

The author then boldly sets out this goal:

“It is our intention with this magazine to find the revolutionary spirit of this age that will captivate its young adults and inspire them to become active agents of the Bah??’?­ community.”

Well, I wish him and the rest of the Baha’is behind SPIRITUAL DEGREES the best of luck and will be looking forward to their progress. I sigh and shake my head though, because I know that if they truly do set out to accomplish that goal with single-minded regard for truth, they will be mercilessly crushed by the AO (just like Talisman I, Dialogue, the LA classes, and many individuals before them).

I do applaud their cherubic zeal and look forward to their next missive.

LA Study Class Newsletter [#21]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER
My Notes:

This newsletter offers a glimpse into the unpublished and inaccessible archives of the writings of Abdu’l-Baha. Presenting this glimpse is a young Vahid Rafati who would later on become the director of research at the Baha’i World Center. This is a rather privileged and enviably position as, unlike most other scholars, it allows him access to source materials.

Also in this newsletter we see the first signs of a negative reaction to the LA classes. In this instance, a person reacted in an obviously emotional state to the statement that Baha’is are not forbidden from reading Covenant-Breaker material. I say emotional because clearly she did not take the time to think about the matter in a level headed way. If she had, she would have realized that the very quotes she supplied supported the statement she was so vehemently opposed to. This is not surprising when you consider that the average Baha’i has a visceral repulsion when it comes to covenant-breakers and enters into a somewhat irrational state when talking about them. I myself have run into this several times where angry Baha’is frothing at the mouth, quote things left and right without once taking the time to digest what they are saying.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70’s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]
“The City That Features Close
Encounters of the Worst Kind.”
CLASS NOTES – November 27, 1977 — Vol. II, No. 16

Our study class meeting was held on November 27, the eve of the anniversary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha, a fitting time for Vahid Rafati of Santa Monica to discuss letters from Abdu’l-Baha which are on file at the National Archives in Wilmette, Illinois. Vahid spent the summers of 1975-76 pouring over the tablets, cataloging and classifying them. He reported that the National Assembly has more than 2,000 tablets from Abdu’l-Baha in its archives, some 1,400 of which he read personally.

Vahid noted that Abdu’l-Baha began writing when He was still in His mid-teens, at one point setting out a treatise on the authority of the Prophet Muhammad. During the course of His life, Abdu’l-Baha wrote books on history, philosophy, religion and a whole host of general subjects. Most of these works are unkown in the West.

From a Baha’i point of view, among His most interesting writings were the estimated 8,000 tablets or letters He wrote to individuals, Assemblies, Baha’i conventions, scholars, government officials, scientists and groups with ideals akin to the Faith. These notes varied in length from three to four lines to a thousand verses.

Vahid, who studied many of the tablets addressed to westerners reported “it is very difficult to see a formulated, and crystalized ideology in Abdu’l-Baha’s writings.” Nothing about His life is clear to us, and no attempt has been made to study His life and achievements.”

The tablets themselves were mostly written in Persian, although about 25% of them were composed in Arabic. Letters from Abdu’l-Baha began to appear in the West from about 1898 and continued (except during World War I, when Palestine was cut off from the West) through His death in 1921. Vahid said many of the tablets to early Western Baha’is were translated for them by Ali Kuli Khan or Dr. Zia Baghdadi, two Persian Baha’i pioneers living in the Chicago area.

Most of the tablets are quite short, ranging from five to fifteen lines in length, with a few running as long as 25 lines. Each tablet has His personal seal or signature on it. Abdu’l-Baha also signed those tablets to westerners in English script, writing His name: “abdu’l-Baha abbas.”

He also addressed the letters with a blessing to the recipient, sometimes beginning by writing, “be upon him Baha el-Abha” or using the honorific “Maidservant of God.” Abdu’l-Baha rarely initiated any correspondence, but usually wrote in reply to someone. Parenthetically, Vahid noted that one of the problems in classifying the tablets is that the letters to which they respond are not available, although, apparently, some are kept in Haifa but have not been collated nor sorted through. This presents an insoluable problem in some cases, for Abdu’l-Baha often replies to explain “the verse about which you asked” without noting what verse that was.

Despite the fragmented nature of the tablets, some stylistic similarities come through. Many of the tablets are written to encourage the fledgling American Baha’i community, and often the Master would compare the early Baha’is with the first Christians noting that Jesus’ first disciples also were few in number and humble in station. Abdu’l-Baha also frequently used naturalistic symbols in His writings, urging the American Baha’is to be “radiant like the sun” or unified “like the drops of one ocean.”

The main subject of His tablets were clarifications of the true teachings of Baha’u’llah, responses to personal inquiries about marriage and divorce problems and offerings of personal advice. (Writing to one lady who evidently informed Him she was divorcing her husband, Abdu’l-Baha repleid that He was distressed by this news and told her that her spiritual love for her estranged husband must increase “until you are like brother and sister.”)

He also repeatedly stressed His confidence in the eventual triumph of the Faith in the West. While people would write to complain about the lack of progress of the Baha’i Faith in gaining widespread acceptance in early 20th century America, He would reply that, in time, the Faith would be embraced by multitudes. He noted that, while the early Baha’is were reviled and sometimes ostracized by hostile non-Baha’is, that also had been the case with early Christians.

Some of the Master’s tablets concerned California, which He said had the capacity to spread the teachings of God. He also offered lavish praise for Thornton Chase, the first American Baha’i, now buried in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles. Abdu’l-Baha instructed the Baha’is of the Los Angeles area to heap bunches of flowers on Mr. Chase’s grace and recite prayers all day long on the anniversary of his death. Once, when a San Francisco Baha’i wrote about the fewness of the number of Baha’is in Los Angeles (San Francisco always was jealous of Los Angeles), Abdu’l-Baha replied that while the Los Angeles assembly was small, if its members were steadfast in their belief, they could march in the forefront of the Baha’i ranks. In response to another letter, He told an inquirer that it was not permitted to hand out Baha’i literature on the streets and in public places.

Vahid said that his reading of the tablets convinced him that Abdu’l-Baha was flexible in His thinking, but firm to the point of being rigid when it came to matters of loyalty to the Covenant. He also emphasized to the Baha’is to whom He wrote that they must reflect their religious beliefs in their lifestyles, avoiding the examples of Christians and Jews who professed one mode of behavior and practice another.

Abdu’l-Baha sometimes would compose prayers on request and, in a few instances, consented to interpret dreams of those who wrote to Him for such explanations. And, there were the usual requests for explanations of Baha’i social teachings, the importance of selecting a universal language. And, in response to other requests, the Master delved into philosophical topics, such as the goal of creation, the station of man, man’s relation to God and the like.

He also devoted some communication to dispelling misunderstandings about His own authority. To those people who addressed Him as a Prophet or even – a common misconception in those early days – as the Return of Christ, He denied having prophetic powers or authority. He would then briefly explain that He was the Center of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant and the authorized interpreter of His father’s writings, but could not establish His own rules or create His own religion.

And, Abdu’l-Baha also offered explanations of verses in the Kitab-i-Aqdas or passages from The Hidden Words, urged Western Baha’is to learn Persian and to memorize selected Baha’i prayers.

He also identified several important Tablets of Baha’u’llah which He urged be translated into English and disseminated to non-Baha’is as representative samplings of what the Faith believes. These Tablets were later identified by Shoghi Effendi as supplementing and modifying the Kitab-i-Aqdas. They are the “Ishraqat” (Splendors), “Bisharat” (Glad Tidings), “Tarazat” (Ornaments), “Tajalliyat” (Effulgences), “Kalimat-i-Ferdawsiyyih” (Words of Paradise), “Lawh-i-Aqdas” (Most Holy Tablets), “Lawh-i-Dunya” (Tablet of the World), and “Lawh-i-Maqsud” (Tablet of Maqsud)[Ed. which means: ‘Tablet of the Goal’ or ‘Desired One’]. Two other important works in this regard are the “Kitab-i-Ahd” (Baha’u’llah’s Covenant) and “Questions and Answers”.

Vahid was reluctant to draw any conclusions from his research since he had not read the Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha in other archives. He said it is not clear why Abdu’l-Baha would take certain positions in what He wrote, nor is very much known about what outside influences in terms of cultural and intellectual contacts He had that might have shaped what He wrote. Some class members, however, argued that the 1,400 tablets which Vahid read was a broad enough sample to begin making some generalizations which could always later be amended if new facts came to light. They further argued that it is a mistake to believe that a complete reading of Abdu’l-Baha’s correspondence would bring us any closer to valid generalizations about Abdu’l-Baha’s teachings.

Objections were also raised to Vahid’s estimate of 8,000 for the number of tablets of Abdu’l-Baha in existence. (This estimate was based on the fact that there are about 2,000 tablets in the American archives and about 5,000 in the Persian Archives.) It is well known that, at one period at least, Abdu’l-Baha was producing 90 tablets a day. At that rate, He would have finished 8,000 tablets in less than three months. Since Abdu’l-Baha’s ministry covered 29 years, we should expect that his correspondence was very much larger than this. The small number of tablets in the American and Persian archives does not take into account those on file in Haifa. Even so, it seems that the greatest number of Abdu’l-Baha’s tablets are still in the hands of private individuals.

Class members asked Vahid how he regarded the Baha’i doctrine of infallibility with regard to Abdu’l-Baha’s tablets. Speficically, he was aked, could the Master have made an error, historical or scientific, for example, in what He wrote? Vahid said he saw no such mistakes in anything he read, but if one turned up, it would have to be held in abeyance until thorough investigation could be conducted.

POINT/COUNTERPOINT DEPT. We received a letter from Margeret Fife of Yonkers, New York, taking exception to some statements appearing in the August 14 newsletter regarding Bob Ballenger’s report: “Roles in Conflict: Baha’i Administration versus the Individual.” A summary of the class discussion which followed Ballenger’s report touched on the issue of censorship and the Baha’i Faith. It was noted that this attitude of suppression extends to the point where “Where Baha’is are being told they may not read books by enemies of the Cause nor by Covenant-Breakers. This is simply not true. Baha’is are not forbidden to read such books, although the community as a whole is discouraged from doing so.”

Ms. Fife objected to this language in a seven-page letter, such of which consisted in quotes from various Baha’i writings including the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha and Star of the West. The text of her letter is too long to be included here, but, in substance, she wrote, quoting from the Will and Testament:

“One of the greatest and most fundamental principles of the Cause of God is to shun and avoid entirely the Covenant-Breakers, for they will utterly destroy the Cause of God, exterminate His Law and render of no account all efforts exerted in the past.”

A bit later, she added, quoting from a Canadian Baha’i booklist, The Power of the Covenant:

“Great danger is associated with reading material written by the Covenant-Breakers, and the strongest warnings are issued against such actions.” And “…certain believers have the unpleasant duty of having to read such works in the course of their duty to protect the Faith – but the friends are warned, in the strongest terms, of the danger of reading such literature. Unless one is very well informed of the history of the Faith and is deeply confirmed in one’s belief, the calumnies and distortions of truth contained in such literature can undermine one’s faith.”

BALLENGER REPLIES: Nothing Ms. Fife writes persuades me to change the conclusions stated in the August newsletter to which she objects. For one thing, she ignores the distinction between books by enemies of the Faith and Covenant-Breakers, evidently lumping these in the same class. That is falacious thinking, Baha’is are free to read whatever they please, including William Miller’s books The Baha’i Faith: Its History and Teachings, which is relentlessly hostile in its assessment of the Faith. As regards literature by Covenant-Breakers, Baha’is are not, despite what Ms. Fife implies, expressly forbidden to read their works. (For one thing, such prohibition would violate the Baha’i principle of independent investigation of the truth, a principle that does not become null and void when someone signs a declaration card.) The report pointed out that the Baha’i Community is discouraged from reading Covenant-Breaker material, although, again, it is not forbidden to do so. This, it seems to me, is right in line with the quotations Ms. Fife cited in her letter, so I can’t understand the grounds for her objections.

NEXT CLASS: Jon and Chris Hendershot recently attended the November session at the Bosch Baha’i School in Santa Cruz and will review a somewhat controversial class taught at the school. The major topic of the class was becoming a “born again” Baha’i, and the spiritual steps Baha’u’llah outlines for a personal rebirth. Also slated for discussion is a report on a video-tape shown at Bosch of a lecture by Peter Khan on the Baha’i concept of Collective Centers, what these are and how they work. The class will convene on Sunday, December 18, at 2 pm at the Hendershot home [Ed. Personal home address with directions and phone number follows].

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

It’s a little known fact. . . [3]

You know it!

Back by popular demand, here is the third installment in this series. For those of you who don’t know what this is all about, its basically a fact or trivia that for some strange reason, 99.99% of Baha’is don’t know of.

Now, I’ve been getting some feedback which goes something like this: “Meh, I knew that.” I think those that respond like that don’t really get what this is all about. It isn’t about what you may know or not know; its about something which the vast majority of the Baha’is out there don’t know. Oh, and if you do know, then good on ya mate! We’re all very proud of you.

So without further ado, lets get down to business:

Its a little known fact. . .that Baha’is are not forbidden from reading covenant-breaker material.

Shocking! Scandalous! Get my oxygen mask! Where’s that thorazine drip? Nuuuurse!!

Once you are appropriately medicated and are ready to go on, I will tell you that indeed this is true. See for yourself:

To read the writings of Covenant-breakers is not forbidden to the believers and does not constitute in itself an act of Covenant-breaking.
(Universal House of Justice — October 29, 1974)

The House of Justice has instructed us to say that, as you are no doubt aware, it is not prohibited for Baha’is to read the writings of Covenant-breakers…
(Secretariat — October 12, 1978)

And yet there is a persistent myth that Baha’is are forbidden or not allowed to (according to Baha’i law or authoritative instructions) to read material which was written by a covenant-breaker.

That this myth exists and is perpetuated is inexcusable – hence our shattering of it. But it is understandable once you remember two things. One, that the UHJ strongly discouraged Baha’is from reading such material (many individuals misinterpret this to mean that they are not free to decide for themselves) and two, that covenant-breakers aren’t looked upon too kindly. Well, that’s putting it diplomatically. In the minds of most Baha’is, they are categorized, in terms of attractiveness, somewhere among psychopaths and lepers (or a psychopathic leper). In short, they are to be shunned and avoided, at all costs.

A rather extreme measure, I’m sure you’ll agree. So why not then go one step further from discouragement to outright banning if covenant-breakers are so nasty?

I think the answer is that to do so would be to go against the most fundamental principle of the Baha’i Faith: individual and independant investigation of truth. And it is telling just how much this verity is prized that when it goes up against such a charged facet of the Faith as covenant-breakers, it comes out on top.

Interestingly enough I had a conversation a while back on LJ’s Baha’i forum on this very topic. One of the moderators (who finds it vital to their existence to correct me – especially when I’m not wrong) piped in and screamed:

WRONG!

And then went on to post quote after quote (like the above) which actually showed that Baha’is are not forbidden from reading covenant-breaker material. I don’t have a link to that because my comments as well as others’ were censored by the same moderator. But this moderator also ‘corrected’ me in this other thread. I mentioned that the UHJ only has legislative authority and then I was told ‘incorrect’ by the moderator and given quotes which shows that the UHJ only has legislative authority. Another person did something similar in this thread (here it is without censorship). If you need to go lie down after reading that, I don’t blame you. It seems that this whole topic evokes such a strong emotional reaction from Baha’is that they enter a state of temporary insanity. But I digress.

So the next time some Baha’i implies or says that they are forbidden from reading covenant-breaker material, you can show that this is patently, categorically, and absolutely false.

Just be ready to duck in an alley to escape the shrapnel as they explode in a hot flash of indignant (or is that ignorant) rage.

Habemus Rottweiler…er Papam

After choosing the new Pope, the Cardinals filed past in single file and kneeled before Ratzinger. But then again, this was just formalizing a state of affairs which has existed for the past 20 or so years.

Much will be made of Ratzinger, or Benedict XVI, and his past. His youthful and naive indiscretion of belonging briefly to the infamous Hitler Youth has already been publicly exposed. But a much more alarming history will need to be glossed over. And indeed, the spin doctors have already began to work furiously.

Ratzinger was the Dean of the College of Cardinals but he held another much more important office. He was the head of the ‘Congregation for the Docrine of Faith’ – the institution which was entrusted with the responsability and authority to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy and protect the Catholic Church. Ratzinger was the head of this institution for 24 years. But before he came onto the scene – much earlier in fact – it was known by another name: the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

While occupuying this important position, Ratzinger held true to the legacy of his predecessors. Although he didn’t resort to thumbscrews and burnings at the stake, Ratzinger still got his way and anyone who disagreed with him was bullied into silence or excommunicated.

He was a polarizing figure. One who was most at ease in combat and debate – using his highly sharpened skills of rhetoric to plow through opponents. In his now infamous essay, “Dominus Iesus” he set out in no uncertain terms his belief that the only true path was the Catholic Church. In it, he also assailed the pluralism and moderation that so many other Cardinals had embraced. He also railed against what he called “cafeteria Catholics” who chose to use birth-control and homosexuals whom he said were an “intrinsic, moral evil”.

Ratzinger was, plainly put, the enforcer of the Vatican. While Pope John Paul II went around in public looking as soft and pink as a puppy, he was behind the curtains ripping apart anyone who strayed from ‘doctrine’. During his years as the enforcer, he gained a nickname which he no doubt accepted with pride; that of ‘God’s Rottweiler’. It was given to him quite deservingly as he worked diligently to bully, browbeat, and pressure any and all internal sources of pluralism and liberalism. He used all the tools at his disposal: financial incentives (both given and taken away), appointing or moving around high ranking clergy, and threatening ex-communication (as well as carrying it out on several occasions). He was also the pointman when it came for the Vatican to defuse the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, his response was to viciously attack the victims and the media on charges of sensationalism and exaggeration.

On his watch the voices of dissent, liberalism and pluralism either retreated into self-imposed silence, capitulated into accepting Ratzinger’s position or were excommunicated. Yet his actions shook up the Catholic Church and left it divided and many times at odds with itself.

I find it a bit tragic that someone so extremist and close-minded is now occupying such an important position. And yet, I’m not surprised at all by this turn of events. It has been my experience that the persons who gain higher and higher offices, those who are either appointed or elected to positions of authority, usually tend to have rather aggressive personalities and a somewhat extremist bent.

You simply do not find someone who is meek and gentle (those that pause to make sure that everyone has their say in a meeting, for example) going up the ladder, as it were – other than the Unitarian Jihadists, that is. Instead, it is almost always the person whose forceful character steamrolls over other’s and bullies them into either silence or reluctant acceptance of their position – if for nothing other than to just keep the peace and unity of the group. I’ve personally seen this in many organizations. And unfortunately the Baha’i administration is no exception.

The ascent and past of Ratzinger is all to familiar because it parallels the ascent and past of ITC members and Counsellors who see their duty the ‘protection’ of the Faith. I’m not sure by what feats of logic they convince themselves that they can hold such a position or to keep secret files on individual Baha’is. But somehow they do. And not surprisingly it is these same individuals who are becoming members of the Universal House of Justice.

I also see many parallels between the voices in the Catholic Church that Ratzinger worked so hard to silence, and the marginalized voices within the Baha’i Faith. Perhaps there is a lesson we can learn here.